- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 3, 2009

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) | The Teamsters union is threatening a strike that it says would likely shut down the Star Tribune if the newspaper, which is in bankruptcy protection, is allowed to scrap its contract with unionized drivers.

Teamsters Local 638 filed its opposition Monday to the newspaper’s proposal to reject the contract.

The newspaper wants to pull out of what it calls a “critically unfunded” multi-employer pension plan that was costing it more than $1 million a year in plan contributions.

But the Teamsters local, which represents about 190 full- and part-time drivers at the Star Tribune, has authorized a strike if a federal bankruptcy court allows the newspaper to reject the contract. The drivers say that if they strike, Teamsters local unions that represent mailers and pressmen at the paper also likely would strike.

“Because these employees operate the presses which print the paper, assemble the papers and deliver the papers, a Local 638 strike is likely to have a devastating impact on the Star Tribune’s ability to operate, and in all likelihood will shut the paper down,” the drivers’ union said.

Star Tribune spokesman Ben Taylor said Tuesday that talks continue with the Teamsters and that the newspaper will respond in court. A hearing is set for next Tuesday.

In its court filing, the drivers’ union said participation in the Central States Pension Fund is “critical” to its members and noted that in 1964, the local struck the Star Tribune for five months to get pension coverage for its members through Central States.

“The pensions which they have earned provide the bedrock for a secure and dignified retirement for these employees, many of whom at this point have given their entire working lives to the Star Tribune,” the union said.

If the Star Tribune is allowed to withdraw from Central States, the union says, drivers who retired during the past year or have yet to retire “will suffer significant reductions” in pension benefits.

Although the Star Tribune has proposed making up some of the lost pension money, the union says, employees in their mid- to late-50s will be hardest hit and won’t be able to make up the reduction in their pension before they retire.

The Star Tribune is seeking to cut labor costs by $20 million a year as it prepares to emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The delivery truck drivers’ union is the last major bargaining unit that hasn’t agreed to concessions.

The Star Tribune filed for bankruptcy in January under pressure from plummeting ad sales and heavy debt taken on when Avista Capital Partners LP bought the paper from McClatchy Co. in 2007.

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